In a month and a half, my son will be turning 1. It is a monumental occasion, and something that is becoming a big deal in our household. This is for obvious reasons, such as surviving a year of parenthood and our first child growing up before our eyes – not to mention planning a (mammoth!) party to celebrate. But it is also monumental because it marks the end of my full-time at home with him. And it is bringing up feelings of Separation Anxiety for a certain someone…
I have taken the last 10 months off work to stay at home and raise our son. And I’ll be honest – it has been full of many ups and downs. Ups such as watching him smile, sit up and crawl for the first time, develop teeth, sleep through the night (hallelujah!) and say ‘mum’ and ‘dad’. But there have been some pretty big downs. For example, I went through Postnatal Anxiety for the first 3 months of my son’s life because he is an extremely loud crier, and this would make me fearful about leaving the house. So much so, that I actually avoided leaving the house as much as possible for almost 4 months. However, we finally broke through that wall – together – as he grew calmer and I started to relax a bit more.
But now, as my son’s first birthday rapidly approaches, the time for me to return to work comes swiftly with it. And I’ll be honest, I’m petrified.
Mothers suffering from Separation Anxiety
In our mother’s circles, the conversation about returning to work is starting to crop up a lot more. And I’ve noticed a trend. If I suggest even a hint of worry about going back to work – such as, “Oh the time has gone too quickly…”, or more bluntly, “I don’t want to go back to work” – a lot of other mums will say to me, “Oh he’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it”. I nod and smile, but let’s be real here. I wasn’t talking about my son. I was talking about myself. Fortunately, I know he’ll be fine with the whole situation.
While I may only be returning to work part-time, the thought of it bothers me. Not because I don’t enjoy my work or get along with my colleagues (I do!). And certainly not because I don’t trust our carers – close family members – because they have cared for him before and they’ve all survived in one piece. It bothers me for the one simple reason that the whole idea gives me anxiety. Anxiety about missing out on time with my son. Missing his moments. Missing some firsts. While it may not seem like a big deal to some people, for me (a naturally pre-disposed, anxious mumma), it does.
Unfortunately, this type of anxiety is met most commonly with unsympathetic ears. I’ve been called a “helicopter” parent numerous times, misconstrued as the mum who wants to bubble wrap her child and protect him from the big, bad world. While this is not true (to a large extent), I do hope that more people – women, men, other mums and dads, employers, the coffee-shop owner – will come to understand that separation anxiety affects mums just as much as babies, and that it does not always necessarily come from a bad place. It doesn’t mean that I’m crazy, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t trust others to take care of my son. What it means is that I enjoy spending time with my son way too much, and don’t want to miss out on any moments.
To the Bystander of Separation Anxiety
If you are a spouse, relative, friend, colleague or acquaintance of someone going through separation anxiety with their child/ren, here are a few points to consider:
- This mum has given birth to and has spent almost every waking moment of their time with this little baby. It will take a lot of time for them to work through the process of spending time away from them. It is like having an additional limb – you become very much attached to it!
- Try to give this mum some encouragement, and also some space if/when needed. Belittling dialogue or criticism can be hurtful, particularly if this mum is going through more generalised anxiety (beyond separation anxiety).
- Help the mum to adjust by distracting them with some of the “perks” of returning to the work place – a hot cup of coffee/tea, freedom to use the bathroom whenever they want, and/or adult conversation.
To the Fellow Separation Anxiety Sufferer
If you are a mum (or dad) also suffering from separation anxiety from your baby, I want to let you know that you are NOT alone. Here are some things I’m going to do to help make the transition a bit easier for me:
- Remind myself of all the things I’ll be able to do at work that I couldn’t do with my son around. These are much like the above points – have a hot cup of tea, chat with my colleagues without any (excessive!) whinging or screaming, and go to the bathroom whenever I want.
- Recognise that I’m feeling anxious, and if I need to call home to see how everything is going, to hear my son’s voice (and ease my anxiety), I’ll tell myself that this is okay. Be kind to yourself.
- If it is possible to transition to work in stages, do that. For example, I am attending a half-day planning meeting towards the end of the term in preparation for work. This will give me a taste of what it’ll be like before diving straight in. If this isn’t possible, maybe organise for your baby to be looked after for half a day anyway and take the opportunity to get some other things done.
- If you’re overly anxious or worried, talk to someone about it. Even talking to an organisation like PANDA (who have trained counsellors on the phones, Monday to Friday, 10am – 5pm, on 1300 726 306) may help ease your anxiety.
Whatever the cause of your separation anxiety, one thing I am sure of is that it will get better. I know that being away from my son for a few days each week for work will make me appreciate our time together even more, and make our moments more special. And besides, who knows. By the time we become accustomed to the work/life “balance”, us mums may find we are then expecting another baby and will go through the whole process again….